|Letter to Family and Friends [8/26/1944]
G2 Sec. Hqt. 12th Army Group
APO 655 c/o Postmaster
Aug. 26, 1944
Dear Family and Friends;
A year ago today was an exciting day for me since on that day I left the States for my first flight across the Atlantic, but today has been even more interesting. So I want to record some confused impressions while they are still with me and I will ask Elizabeth to make copies of this for whoever may be interested.
This account might well be entitled "A Trip to Paris" but one made on one of the most interesting days of the history of that city. From our Headquarters, which for obvious reasons cannot be located, another officer whom I will call Charlie, a Belgian sergeant and I started for Paris which had been occupied late yesterday. It was a fast ride that started in the usual way; i.e., wonderful smiles and waves on the way from everyone. Tearing down wonderful roads and even through towns at 55 and 60 miles an hour was not as dangerous as it sounds since the roads were practically empty. The 2nd French Armored, which for good political reasons was allowed to take Paris, had gone in yesterday and the great mass of supply and supporting troops had not yet moved up. Besides, speed is good when a stray sniper's bullet may come your way.
As we drew near to Paris, however, the welcome took on a new tone. We were among the first Americans the people had seen and the welcome became more than friendly waving. Shouts and cheers, flowers thrown at us, people dancing up and down with excitement, --- all waving us on. Urging us it seemed to drive even faster. And the Versailles! German resistance had persisted in Versailles up to a few hours earlier and long after Paris itself had fallen. There the crowds literally stopped us. They would simply stand in front of us until we slowed down. They climbed aboard the Jeep, threw flowers, kissed us on both cheeks at the rate of about 59 per minute. It was pure hysterical joy. And so on into Paris, --- about 17 hours after the formal resistance had stopped.
I find I cannot adequately describe it. All Paris was on the streets. We plowed our way through amidst shouts, cheers, flowers and we waved the V sign until our arms ached. Finally the Place de la Concorde and a sight such as I have never dreamt that I would ever see. It was like a hug pageant. The tanks of the 2nd French Armored were drawn up around the Place and covered with men, women and children all in their best clothes and all waving flags. Overhead airplanes were dipping and rolling in salute. Every one was singing the Marseilles. And then the parade. We fought our way through the hand-shaking and kissing crowd and up onto a tank. Most of the parade that we saw consisted of the resistance elements. Ragged, dirty, and many with minor wounds. The so-called officers trying to keep them in step without success since most of them had never marched together before. But almost all of them carrying some kind or weapon --- a dirk, some kind of pistol even if it were only a pearl handled 22, or more common, some stolen German weapon ranging from hand grenades to machine guns. But all proud, all happy, and waving and saluting us when they recognized our tin hats as American. There was no doubt that it was real and genuine.
At last we turned away since we had to get back to our headquarters for an important briefing [with Eisenhower et al] and I had a huge desire to have a drink at the Ritz bar before leaving. But how to get to the Ritz with parades in all directions? It was impossible but we tried to go around the parades through the throngs. As we passed the Palais Royale, shooting broke out all around us and we hastily sought cover. Then all hell broke loose. A group of snipers on the roof of the Palais Royale were firing into the crowds. The parade broke up quickly as people rushed for cover and as the Resistance men and a scattering of Americans took positions to return the fire. Charlie knelt behind a tree while I was prone behind him. Try as we would, however, we could not see a sniper anywhere to shoot at. That, however, did not deter the Frenchmen any and they blazed away with rifles, pistols and machine guns although I am sure they saw nothing to shoot at. But we found ourselves pinned down by a right smart volume of fire. A woman running for shelter twenty-five yards away dropped perfectly dead from a sniper's bullet. A Frenchman next to us began to fire and I feared he would draw the sniper's attention our way. As the tree Charlie was behind offered me practically no cover I ducked behind an American tank ten feet away. The gunner in the tank would intermittently spray the whole building with 50 caliber MG fire just on general principals while I peaked around the corner of the tank trying to see something to shoot at.
Finally troops got into the bottom of the building through a window and went up inside to drive out the snipers. Then Charlie and I really had our hands full because whenever a head showed on the roof all the Frenchmen would shoot at it and it was practically a certainty that the head belonged to an American! So we rushed around swearing at the birds in best American which made no impression on them whatsoever but threatening them with a pistol turned out to be quite effective. Finally two snipers were driven from the building --- out of a rumored 35 --- and I saw a French mob in action. The men were beaten savagely and then shot. Not a pretty sight but these men were pure murderers.
After awhile all was quiet and we pushed on for our trip back to headquarters. On the way, two interesting sights. A crowd driving two women with the hair shaven from their heads and lipstick daubed over their faces, driving them out of town. It is the accepted punishment for women who have lived with Germans during the occupation. A little further, and we came on a group of 50 or 60 Germans who were still carrying a white flag and had apparently just come out of hiding.
So ended an exciting and interesting afternoon. This account I am afraid is far short of describing Paris in both it's happiest and it's angriest mood. The change, in a matter of seconds, from gala to fear and hate and death cannot be described. But at least I have seen Paris on one of the happiest days in it's long and bloody history.
Tonight I hear that Bulgaria is asking for peace. The end is now coming fast. The only question is whether or not the Germans are going to force us to break through their famed Siegfried Line. If so, it may take a little time to prepare for that effort, but I cannot imagine that the inevitable result is not clear to every German who knows anything. And it is with some satisfaction that I see that it must be clear to all Europe that America is winning this war. Not only with materials but it is American troops' energy and drive that is bringing the victory. The British, the French and the Marquis have all helped but American force and strategy have been decisive. More on that point après la guerre.
Love to you all